Parents & Origin: Rhine (Germany) Grape: Green-skinned, originated as a cross between Gouais blanc (a rare grape dating to the Middle Ages) as well as a wild vine-Savagnin hybrid parent Flavors: Apples, Apricot, Peaches, Pears Notable Regions: Germany, California, Alsace (France), Finger Lakes (NY), Washington State, Australia/New Zealand Sweetness: Sweet to dry depending on region Body: Light Tannins: None Acidity: High ABV: 11-13%
The History of Riesling
The Riesling grape was first produced in the Rhine winemaking region in Western Germany. Many originally thought that Riesling came from wild Rhine grape varieties. Still, recent DNA research has traced its origin to one Gouais blanc parent and one half-wild parent, half Savagnin (the same grape to produce Sauvignon Blanc eventually). The first known reference to Riesling came in 1435, when it was noted in the storeroom of Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen. It became very popular with the German nobility at the time, and these nobles started the spread of Riesling as they carried it with them on their travels.
Riesling continues to have a strong presence in Germany after centuries of storied history, and it is currently the most common grape variety. The grape was brought to France’s Alsace region in 1477 at the urging of the Duke of Lorraine, and it remains immensely popular there as well. Finally, Riesling was brought to regions such as California, New York, Australia, and New Zealand in the mid-19th century.
Interesting Fact: Riesling has somewhat of a stigma in the United States due to a common belief that it is “too sweet.” However, Riesling is available in a wide variety that covers the entire spectrum of dry to sweet.
Riesling Food Pairings
Due to its even balance of sweetness and acidity, Riesling pairs well with most foods, especially those with a bit of spice.
The Best Riesling Food Pairings
Riesling has long been noted for how well it pairs with spicy food, and it is one of the few wines that is excellent with the robust heat of Thai and Indian cuisine. It also pairs well with white fish, chicken, and pork (especially the drier varieties). Sweeter Rieslings also pair with most sweet foods.
Food Pairings to Avoid With Riesling
The balanced flavor profile of Riesling means that there are not many foods to avoid when paired with Riesling. However, Riesling is not usually considered for pairing with cheese. Dry Rieslings should also be avoided with sweeter foods, and sweet Rieslings should be avoided with acidic foods.
Riesling Tasting Notes
Riesling is usually pure and is very rarely oaked, resulting in natural flavor profiles of apple, apricot, peach, and pear. It is also highly aromatic with a distinctly floral aroma. The wine can be either sweet or dry; German and Californian Rieslings are sweeter, while French and New York varieties are more dry. What distinguishes Riesling the most from other wines is its floral aroma, aging potential, and unique balance between sweetness and acidity.
Riesling's Delicate Flavors
Riesling grapes are harvested through a careful process to ensure maximum flavor. Grapes are grown over a long and slow ripening period with a low yield to keep their natural flavors concentrated. The delicate grapes require special care to protect their skin during harvesting to prevent the leak of tannins into the wine. Then, once the wine is fermented, it is usually consumed in its freshest state to keep its fruity flavors prominent.
Riesling's Aging Potential
While most Riesling is usually consumed young, Riesling is one of the few white whines that has marked potential for improvement with long-term aging. The grape’s high acidity, along with a compound called TDN, ensures this aging potential. The result is that a bottle of high-quality Riesling can not only last but improve well over 100 years later. Heavily-aged Riesling contains a large amount of TDN which produces a unique aroma that smells similar to petrol, though this scent is seen by wine enthusiasts as a sign of quality.
Cool Climate vs. Warm Climate Riesling
The range of Riesling’s many varieties is explained in part by the climates in which it is grown. Many Rieslings from the United States, Australia, and New Zealand face warmer growing conditions, which results in a slightly sweeter and less acidic final product. In contrast, the Rieslings produced in cooler European regions have a drier flavor profile.
Riesling in a Nutshell
Since its origins in the Rhine area in the 15th century, Riesling has risen to become one of the most widespread and culinarily significant wines. Often overlooked due to its supposed sweetness, Riesling is in fact, a very versatile grape variety that can produce wildly different flavors based on growing region and aging.
Prized for its aging ability, balanced acidity, and floral aroma, Riesling can be a fantastic, unexpected addition to a developed wine enthusiast’s palate. Drier varieties pair well with poultry and fish, while sweeter varieties pair wonderfully with spicy foods. It is no surprise that Riesling is finally getting its due as the versatile wine becomes more popular throughout its growing regions and worldwide.